CULVERS GAP TO HIGH POINT AND MIKE LAND NAVIGATION STONES (AKA RANGER BEADS)

On Saturday October 7, 2017 my son, Mike, and I hiked Appalachian Trail (AT) New Jersey Section #4 which is a fourteen mile section from Culvers Gap to High Point State Park. After leaving Mike’s car at the designated AT parking lot off Rt. 23, we drove in my car to the Culvers Gap AT parking lot off Sunrise Mountain Road. We headed northbound at 6:36am. As it was still dark, I set my headlamp on the brightest setting to be able to hike safely.

We started about a five hundred foot ascent past a telephone/radio antenna building before reaching the Culver Fire Tower. We climbed about fifty steps up the tower to enjoy the view. The upper most platform was blocked off but we enjoyed the view back  toward Lake Kittatinny and Culver Lake where we had begun. Mike noticed the No Trespassing sign on one side of the tower.

After climbing back down the tower, we hiked a mile to the Gren Anderson Shelter. This shelter was named after Gren Anderson who was a trail maintainer in the 1940s-50s. The side trail for this shelter is the intersection with the Stony Brook Trail marked with brown signs. There were two solo hikers at the shelter, one of whom had erected his tent on the shelter platform last night. I signed the shelter register and chatted briefly with one of the hikers who was using four off days to hike parts of the AT in New Jersey before he began a new job.

After another hour plus of hiking we arrived at the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Pavilion located near Sunrise Mountain. There was a group of about five bird watchers who were keeping count of birds of prey sightings.

One of the bird watchers pointed out the High Point War Memorial which could be seen with the naked eye sticking up in the distance about ten miles away along the ridge-back of the Kittatinny Mountain. I also photographed another Geodetic Control Survey Station Elevation Reference Marker which was fastened into the top of a beveled concrete pillar. It indicated an elevation of 1653.264′ above sea level (asl). It is the second highest point in New Jersey (second only to High Point which is about 1700′ asl).

We continued north, leaving Sunrise Mountain, and were directed by carved markings on a downed tree to our right. This was the intersection with a blue and a brown and red colored side trail with the AT.

Around this time, Mike used some of his Army Land Navigation skills by improvising a “Ranger Beads” pace counter using small stones along the trail. The theory is that you count the paces you take for 100 meters. He would move one stone out of his hand into his pocket. He would repeat this for the next 100 meters, etc. until he got to 1000 meters, aka a kilometer, and then would have a separate way to count the kilometers covered while he reset his counting system for the 100 meter increments. This way Mike could calculate how far we have traveled even without any convenient landmarks. I hope I explained this right Mike! You are amazing.

After crossing Crigger Road, we arrived at the Mashipacong Shelter. Inside the shelter, affixed to a support beam, was a hand drawn color painting of this shelter. Unknown artist.

After I made an entry in the shelter register, we made the sharp turn around the corner of the shelter to continue north. Someone had added directional information on the two white blazes painted on the corner of the masonry walled shelter.

Ten minutes later we crossed Deckertown Turnpike which had a nearby parking area. About forty minutes later we crossed a buried natural gas pipeline right of way and I captured the view down into the valley.

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Another two miles of ups and downs, with a little random walking on wooden plank puncheon sections or a similarly purposed placed boulder puncheon, and we arrived at the side trail marking the Rutherford Shelter.

As the trip to the shelter was .5 miles downhill, and then the same back up, I decided it was not worth the energy expenditure for a sideways mile hike. Mike would have done it with me if I wanted to see that shelter. However, it was now almost 2pm and I wanted to finish the last three miles which I was sure had more ups and downs to test my endurance. The ups and downs were not very long but they seemed to be frequent. I underestimated these when I reviewed the AT map and I also did not realize that much of this section was similar to a lot of the pointed, rocky trails seen in Pennsylvania.

It took almost two hours to complete the last three miles but finally we came to the signs for the side trail to the AT hiker parking lot off Rt. 23. There was a concrete-filled cast iron hitching post nearby this trail intersection.

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After a six minute hike through woods, we arrived at the parking area and the wonderfully refreshing air conditioning afforded by Mike’s car.

I realized that I have hiked farther in one day on only two other occasions but I was hiking solo on those day hikes. It is much more fun to hike with Mike. Mike has hiked more than 85 miles of the AT with me so far. Thanks again Mike.

During my 19 separate hiking days, whether solo or with hiking companions, I have now hiked a total of 194.1 miles of the AT- 89.8 in New York (completed), 44.7 in New Jersey, 43.8 in Connecticut and 15.8 in Pennsylvania. Another way to look at this, since the entire length of the AT is about 2,188 miles, I have less than 2,000 miles to go!

More hikes to plan but first some Vitamin I.

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PARIS & HEART OF NORMANDY RIVER CRUISE

Bernadette and I celebrated our 40th Anniversary by traveling on an eight day/seven night Viking River Cruise in France. The cruise is named the Paris & Heart of Normandy cruise. We were extra happy that our son, Michael, and our daughter-in-law Emily could join us on the cruise.

After a three hour departure delay caused by the nearby hurricane, we flew from JFK International on an Air France A380 which is the two story jet with a curving staircase on it. We were seated in the economy section downstairs but it was a huge jet which could accommodate more than 500 passengers. We arrived in Paris around 11am and were shuttled to the ship named the Viking Rinda which was docked along the Seine River in Le Pecq.  Two large stone figures adorned the bridge near our ship.

While Bernadette and I went on a guided leisurely walk to the nearby town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Mike and Emily discovered the train ride to Paris is only a half hour. They got an early jump on exploring Paris.

Day Two featured a full day, guided excursion with some stops for walking through Paris where we saw many of the world famous landmarks like the Arc-de-Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees, the Louvre and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Here is one of the largest stain glassed windows in the Gothic styled Notre Dame.

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We walked away from the touristy area near Notre Dame and Bernadette found a small  local restaurant named Cave A Vins which according to the sign translates to Wine Cellar Restaurant. There was an attached store selling wine and the cashier would run back and forth between the register there and the kitchen to help the chef with lunches.

After lunch we regrouped with our tour guide in front of City Hall and then rode toward the park next to the Eiffel Tower. Along the way I noticed that some of the bridges that use to have the padlocks on the sides now had plexiglass to keep couples from fastening a padlock and throwing the key into the Seine River. We had seen several of these “padlocked” bridges on our prior cruise in Paris.

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We arrived at the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower.  I took the photo on the right to get a different perspective of the tower. There was a heightened sense of security and one of the entrances was closed to the public so that all persons trying to walk up the tower had to go through more enhanced security searches at a different entrance.

We returned to the ship for dinner and our Captain cast off for the city of Vernon.

Day Three

The Viking staff always tried to care for our needs and did so in a friendly manner. Here are a couple of the chefs who agreed to pose with Super Squirrel who was a stow-a-way inside Emily’s pocketbook. I am going to miss my made to order omelet each morning.

After passing through some locks during breakfast, we arrived in Vernon around 8am. Today’s included morning tour was a easy three kilometer ride to Giverny which was the home village of Claude Monet. Monet was born in Paris in 1840, moved to England for a period of time, before returning to France and buying the large house and two acres of gardens in Giverny in 1883. This town became a mecca for impressionist painters. The tour included a wonderful walk through Monet’s Japanese-inspired pond and bamboo forest.

Our guide pointed out a large Copper Beech tree which happens to be the same kind of tree next to our house in our neighbors John and Joyce’s yard.

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Next, we walked along Monet’s many flower beds which are immaculately maintained by gardeners hired by the Foundation which now supervises this property.

The end of the tour involved walking through Monet’s house and I took some photos out the upstairs window in Monet’s master bedroom.

Day Four

This is the official day of our 40th Wedding Anniversary. We left Vernon at 3am on our trip to Rouen. Rouen is an important city in Normandy history as it is the site where Joan of Arc was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in the Old Market Square in 1431. There was a tall cross with an embedded sword and a statue of Joan of Arc outside a small chapel.

We entered the chapel where our guide provided us some more information about this time in history. Joan of Arc had been charged with witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man. She was convicted after a lengthy trial and was burned at the stake in May 1431. Actually she suffocated to death after the first burning but her remains had to be burned in a couple of additional fires until everything was incinerated.

Joan of Arc was canonized in 1920 and has been considered one of history’s greatest saints and an enduring symbol of French unity and nationalism.

Across from the Joan of Arc site is the oldest restaurant in France. It is the La Courrone which was established 1345. Our guide on the walking tour explained that Julia Childs ate at this very restaurant which led to her decision to bring French cuisine to America. She had reportedly returned to the same restaurant many times. Patrons today can order what Julia Childs first ordered. I think you would be served Chicken Cordon Bleu.

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While walking through Rouen’s streets there was a group of peaceful protestors, dressed in similar one piece outfits, who were holding up signs protesting something involving chickens.

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One of the famous landmark’s in Rouen is the two sided clock located on an arch across the Rue du Gros-Horloge.  All the cobblestone streets add to the charm of walking in this town.

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The mechanism for this clock was made in 1389. If I understood the guide correctly, there is just one hand and the other moving parts on the face of the clock indicate times of the day, etc. It is also an astronomical clock as well.

To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we decided to make reservations for La Courrone. We were lucky that our new friends, Sandy and Jamie, could join Mike and Emily so that the six of us could enjoy this unique restaurant.

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When we got back to our ship, our cabin staff person had fashioned towels into swans for us.

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Day Five

Breakfast was served a little earlier for those passengers who wished to take one of the included tours to either Omaha Beach and the American cemetery in Normandy or to Juno Beach and the Commonwealth cemeteries (Canadian and British). Since I had already been to the American cemetery on a prior trip, I chose the Commonwealth option.

During the one and a half hour trip toward the Normandy beaches, we made a stop at a museum which housed historical tapestries from the Middle Ages. The hand painted scenes depicted historical events across many years.

We then had an arranged lunch at the 6th of June Restaurant in Arromanches-les-Bains, Normandy. Next stop was the Canadian Museum located at Juno Beach which is the site of the Canadian soldiers landing on D-day. The museum was very informative and I had time to walk down and onto Juno Beach. Juno Beach sits between Gold and Sword beaches which were the British landing sites. These beaches are just a little east of Omaha and Utah beaches used by the American soldiers on D-day.

We boarded our bus for the trip to the Canadian Cemetery in Beny-sur-Mer, Normany. The tour guide provided roses to Canadian citizens on this tour so they could leave a rose at the marker of their choice.

All of the grave markers for the Canadian soldiers had a rounded top but there was a lone marker in the shape of a cross. The cross marked the grave of a French resistance fighter who fought and died with the Canadian soldiers.

Our next destination was the Pegasus Bridge and museum which was in recognition of the British 6th Airborne Division who used wooden glider planes to land quietly near certain bridges during the night just before the early morning D-day invasion. Although the current Pegasus Bridge is not the same as the one during WWII, we walked a short way to the museum where the original bridge was located as an outdoor exhibit. Anyone who has seen the movie “The Longest Day” can recall the scenes where the British land in these wooden gliders and capture strategic bridges from German control in the hours shortly before the main D-day landing. The Pegasus Bridge is one of the strategic bridges and the original bridge was still in place when the movie was made. There were only two German soldiers on guard at the bridge which was captured quickly by the British paratroopers.

 

Also at the museum is a full size wooden glider plane like the ones used by the soldiers. Three planes, each holding 30 paratroopers, landed to secure Pegasus Bridge and another three gliders filled with 90 paratroopers landed nearby to capture another bridge.

Our final stop was a short visit to the British Cemetery in Ranville, Normandy. Our guide pointed out some distinctive things at this cemetery. One was the marker for a 16 year old soldier who was the youngest soldier in this cemetery.

Further, there was a section of this cemetery which had different shaped head stones. These marked the graves of German soldiers who were buried nearby. This particular one did not bear a name. The inscription, translated into English, means simply  “A German Soldier”.

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During dinner on the ship the staff prepared special desserts which were served with bright sparklers to each table. Emily and Sandy are sampling the desserts.

Day Six

We cast off from Rouen bound for Les Andelys. The ride on these Viking ships is so smooth while we enjoyed beautiful views of nearby towns and houses along the Seine.

Jamie introduced me to a retired Air Force pilot who came up to see our daytime passage through a lock.

We were given access for a short tour of the the Viking Rinda’s Bridge and were able to ask questions of the captain. Bernadette took our photo as we all fit inside the bridge.

After lunch, we did the guided walking tour in Les Andelys.  Emily and I posed behind wooden figures of King Richard I better known as Richard the Lionhearted and his Queen. Mike took our photo, Bernadette was shopping.

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Patrick, our guide, stopped at a statue of  Jean Pierre Blanchard located in a square next to a church. Patrick explained that most French people, if asked who Jean Pierre Blanchard is, would not know the significance of this person. Blanchard was a French inventor and a pioneer in balloon flight. He was born in Les Andelys and that is why his statue is placed here.

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Blanchard, along with an American physician, made the first aerial crossing of the English Channel in 1785. When Blanchard made the first crossing, the balloon kept losing altitude so Blanchard threw some ballast out of the basket. He threw out the anchor too. The balloon rose again but later began to descend prematurely so the only thing that Blanchard had to get rid of were his clothing. He took everything off, the balloon rose long enough to make it to land. Blanchard was naked when persons came to congratulate him. Blanchard would later pilot balloon flights in different countries around the world.

The second half of this afternoon tour was a hike up to the Chateau Gaillard which was a fort built in the 12th Century by King Richard I. The view down to the river was beautiful. Here I am standing by some of the remains of the nearly 1,000 year old castle which featured a series of dry moats to keep intruders from storming the castle.

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Following King Richard’s death, a French King and his soldiers ultimately figured out a way to enter the castle after surrounding the castle’s inhabitants for many months.

After a short walk back downhill into Les Andelys, we had dinner while our ship cast off for a return to Le Pecq, which was our starting point near Paris.

Day Seven

Our final day was spent relaxing on the ship’s upper deck reading and we enjoyed the final dinner with our new friends, Sandy and Jamie.

Mike and Emily were able to tour the Opera House in Paris and then later returned to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. Here is a photo taken by Emily. This was way past our bedtime.

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Day Eight

After breakfast, we finished packing and Emily took our last photo on the ship.

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Bernadette said this was her BEST VACATION EVER. Bernadette and I have shared 40 years worth adventures together and these trips are great ways to enjoy our retirement. I love you Bernadette.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BOEING JETS, KING CRAB LEGS AND NORTHERN CASCADE GIANTS

I visited our son, Joel, who lives in Issaquah, Washington which is a little east of Seattle. We accomplished many goals set for the five day trip and Day One began with spending a day at the Boeing Museum of Flight which is located south of Seattle. Despite having been to Seattle more than six times previously, I never was able to fit this into my schedule.

The museum is spread over a huge area and it is filled with Boeing jets and exhibits concerning man’s early efforts of flight up through space flight. This was a well laid out museum and we got to sit inside the cockpits of some fighter jets and to walk on a mock up of the Space Shuttle used for cargo planning of missions.

The exhibits included both military and commercial passenger planes and space vehicles. I walked onto a Concorde which debuted in a race against a regular passenger jet plane. The race was set up as follows: The regular jet would leave the airport in Paris and would fly to Logan Airport in Boston. At the same time the regular jet left Paris, the Concorde left Logan Airport en route to Paris. After landing at Paris, the Concorde then took off and headed back to Logan Airport. The Concorde beat the regular jet back to Logan by eleven minutes. Now that is a debut!

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We also were able to board some of the older Boeing commercial passenger planes and it was funny how spacious the seating was in the coach areas of the plane. Look how much leg room I have. This was not the First Class section. There were even pull down ash trays between all the seats.

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After the museum, we stopped to visit with some of Joel’s co-workers at Boeing Employee Credit Union and then it was off to Seattle to enjoy some seafood. I have always wanted to try Alaskan King Crab legs like the ones caught in traps on the Deadliest Catch television series. We went to Elliott’s Oyster House on Pier 56 in Seattle where we had a nice view of Puget Sound and I thoroughly enjoyed eating steamed Dutch Harbor King Crab legs. I had three of them. I was glad for the bib they provided as it was my first time using the crab leg cracker to help open up the outer shell to get to the meat inside. Dipped in butter, I pigged out.

Day Two started early as we had planned a three day/two night back-country hiking and camping trip in the Northern Cascade Mountains. The particular starting point for this journey was the North Fork Sauk Trail Head which was about a two and a half hour drive from Joel’s house. We loaded up our packs with all we needed. Joel carried his lightweight MSR two person tent which would be home for Joel, Joel’s trail running dog, Luna, and myself. Joel has hiked or trail run many different parts of the Central Cascade and Northern Cascade mountains and I have wanted to experience this area for some time. We also wanted to test different equipment we brought for the camping part of the trip.

After driving down a gravel Forest Service Road for miles deep into the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, we finally arrived at the parking area for the North Fork Sauk Trail Head. Our original plan was to hike about ten to eleven miles up to a tent site at White Mountain Pass. We would then continue a circular hike for another eleven miles on the middle day before sleeping at another camp site. This would be followed by a third hiking day of about the same distance to get us back to our original trail head. Overall, it would be about thirty miles to do what is called the Pilot Ridge Loop Trail. Part of this route would follow the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) which runs from the Mexico/California southern terminus, northward through California, Oregon and Washington up to the Canadian border. The PCT is about five hundred miles longer than the Appalachian Trail.

Before starting I used the restroom located at the parking area. I noticed that the toilet paper rolls were hung on a metal bar that was padlocked on each side. I guess it was to keep persons from stealing the whole rolls. I had never seen this before but Joel explained this is typical for Washington State.

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After departing from the trail head we entered a beautiful, old growth forest of gigantic trees. Luna was equipped with her own backpack which held some of her food and snacks. Luna looked at Joel for the go ahead signal and off she went.

I have never visited Sequoia National Forest in California but this must be similar to what that forest is like. I did not know that the Cascade Mountains had these massive trees. There were gigantic red cedar, Douglas fir and other species of trees in this densely wooded forest.

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We walked underneath one gigantic tree which was so large and was angled such that it did not need to be cut. Joel pretended to hold up this tree.

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There were some other dead fall trees which had fallen across the hiking path. Maintainers had used massive chainsaws to cut sections away to clear the path.

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We counted some of the growth rings on the trees which were more than two hundred years old by our estimate. When looking up, the trees were so tall it was almost impossible to see the top of the tree. The first part of our hike was through these woods and started to gain altitude as we crossed some small streams by rock hopping. In some cases we used man-made bridges to cross larger streams such as Red Mountain Creek which is located just past a small tent site clearing about 4.5 miles into our hike.

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Virtually all of the trails were pine needle covered and were relatively rock and root free. My feet enjoyed the comfort of the cushioned path when compared to the pointy rocks along the Pennsylvania sections of the Appalachian Trail I had experienced just a week ago.

 

We walked in and out of the shaded forest a couple of times and could see amazing vistas of area mountains, some of which still had snow on them. Absolutely stunning.

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We then reached the six-mile mark where we saw the Mackinaw Shelter camping area on our right. Take a look at this “shelter”. The old hiker with the white shirt (me) is standing vertically when compared to the lean of the shelter. I guess a hiker choosing to sleep inside this shelter would have to be really desperate and really tired. There was no sleeping platform.

Rustic elegance aside, we wanted to continue our journey upward. The real steep climbing was to begin now. The trail climbed about two thousand feet in elevation during the next three miles on a trail that featured some very narrow and steep switchbacks. A horseback rider even used this trail and we shimmied off to the side enough for the horse and rider to get by. The rider said he only needed six inches to get by but if the horse bumped my pack, I would have fallen a long way before coming to a stop. We found an area which permitted more than six inches of safety clearance. I am sorry I did not take any photos for you horse fans. Think really big with a cowboy riding.

After climbing for another three miles and about two thousand feet in elevation we were just at the tree line which was a little under 5,000′ above sea level. Naked of trees, the ridge line was visible above us and the rock bordered switchbacks leading upward were easily visible. As it was getting later in the day and now the sun was becoming a factor, I decided that it was time for me to descend. I did not think that I had the energy to continue to our first planned camping area. In hindsight, it was a smart move. Joel was a wonderful hiking partner as usual and helped motivate me up some of the steepest parts but I knew that we could shorten the hike to a two-day adventure and still accomplish my goals of hiking in the northern cascades. Joel looked so fresh he could have hiked all thirty miles in one day!

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So despite being about 750 vertical feet short of the ridge line, we turned around and headed three miles back down the mountain to the aforementioned Mackinaw Shelter camping area. We had hiked about twelve miles on our first day and had done about 5,000′ in up and down elevation change. We did not exactly slack off. A couple of younger hikers heading uphill passed us as we descended. My legs were starting to feel pretty tired but I knew the end was nearing. Even Luna would rest in a small circle of shade on the sunny sides of the switchbacks if we stopped briefly to talk with other hikers. Luna did very well.

Arriving back at the Mackinaw Shelter camping area, Joel picked out a good tent site near a lean-to composed of some branches. Joel hung our packs on the branches here. There was a nearby stream which was perfect for using our Sawyer water filter to refill our bottles and to get some water for dinner.

As we were resting at the campsite, many hikers were arriving and setting up camp for the night. Their plan was to hike the first six miles, sleep over night at the Mackinaw site in order to get some rest, before heading up the steep part of the mountain in the early morning of the next day when their legs were fresh and the temperature was low.

After dinner, Joel hung up our food bag away from our sleeping area. Joel’s lightweight MSR two person tent had matching doors on each side of the tent so no one had to climb over anyone else in order to get in/out of the tent. Joel stuffed a small stuff sack with a jacket so I had a mini pillow for sleeping. Luna tucked into the bend behind my knees for the whole night. As there was no rain in the forecast, we did not set up the rain fly over the top of the tent. Therefore, we had the protection from bugs of the screen while enjoying the views straight up into the narrowing canopy of the old growth trees. What a view. The photo on the right is the view I had while lying on my back and looking toward the sky.

Luna was like a traveling intruder alarm as she would stir if a late arriving hiker came too close to our tent. She would stir a little until the unknown person gave us a wider berth and then we all returned to sleep. Fortunately we had no large wildlife encounters during the night despite seeing some bear scat along the trail during the day.

Day Three– We arose early the next morning. I filtered some more water and Joel heated the water for breakfast. Packing was very easy and we began the six-mile hike back down to our original trail head parking area. As we hiked we passed many hikers who were just arriving and were in the early stages of their Labor Day weekend hike. My legs were still a little sore from the prior day but we moved at a pretty good clip on the way back. We stepped out-of-the-way for another horse with a rider who was heading deeper into the forest.

Our two back country day trip of 18 miles was shorter than originally planned but still was perfect. We took about 37,000 steps during the hike. We drove westward out of the national forest through the nearby local towns of Darrington, Oso and finally into Arlington, where we came to the Burger Barn. Joel recommended this stop for a cheeseburger which, along with the fries, was very tasty.

After the burger, we started driving back toward home. Luna must have felt left out sleeping in her rear area in Joel’s Subaru, so she squeezed past the safety partition and curled up next to Joel’s pack on the middle seat. Luna rested her head on Joel’s pack. She was soon asleep.

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We finished the trip back to Joel’s house and, after a short nap (which is mandatory for retirees like me), we went to a local Issaquah pub where I could have delicious Pacific salmon. If you have only tasted Atlantic salmon, as I had for years before having Pacific salmon in Seattle, you don’t know what you are missing.

While at dinner Joel said that he has always wanted to drive a Tesla electric car. He knew of an owner whose car was parked at a nearby parking garage and Joel made arrangements to rent the car for one day. The car was a Tesla Model X which is their SUV like crossover model.

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Day Four started with Joel making me pancakes with fresh blueberries and maple syrup for breakfast. We drove to pick up the Tesla which was unlocked wirelessly by the owner using his cell phone. Joel retrieved the “key” fob. There are no keys on the fob which is shaped and designed just like the shape and design of the Tesla. Picture a matchbox sized Tesla without the wheels. I then followed Joel, who was driving the Tesla, so we could drop Joel’s car off at his house. We spent some time getting familiar with the Model X. It has seats for six persons and the front passenger doors open as most doors do. The middle seat doors open with falcon wing-shaped doors. As Joel pointed out, these are not gull wing doors like the Delorean vehicle featured in the “Back to the Future” movies since the Tesla door articulates like a Falcon’s wing.  Only the Model X has these style doors. It was a beautifully designed car and this particular model had a battery which could provide about a 220-230 mile range before needing to be recharged. The time to go from zero to sixty mph is just a few seconds and the engine is relatively quiet when compared to a traditional gas-powered engine. Just taking your foot off the accelerator acted like a brake. You hardly needed to use the break pedal. There was ample leg room and as I got out of the middle seat, somehow the button on the remote control was pushed accidentally before I cleared from the area beneath the falcon’s wing. Ouch. It hit me in the head and I believe Joel captured most of this on a Go Pro video camera. Of course he did.

After the stars cleared from my noggin, we used the car for a sightseeing trip along I-90 to Snoqualmie Pass in the Central Cascade Mountains which is just a half hour east from Issaquah. It was a beautiful sunny day with a pure blue sky and we stopped at a restaurant parking area where hikers along the Pacific Crest Trail were walking north or southbound across the road crossing. While we were taking photos posing by the Tesla in the parking lot, a man came over to see the Tesla. We got to talking and he said he brought his daughter to meet up with her fiance who was taking a short break while hiking on the PCT. He explained that his daughter was visiting a while before returning to graduate school in upstate New York. I asked where she was going to school and he said Poughkeepsie. She goes to Marist College. Imagine the coincidence of traveling that far away and bumping into someone whose daughter goes to Marist.

We headed back to Joel’s house in the Tesla and Joel gave rides in the Tesla to some of his friends from his neighborhood. I chose to take a late afternoon nap before going to a 40th Anniversary showing of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” which is one of my all time favorite movies. We saw it at a local, stadium seating styled theater with a gigantic screen. It was not as big as an Imax screen but it was close. It was the perfect setting to see this movie. Thanks Bernadette for conspiring with Joel to surprise me with this movie idea.

Day Five began with a trip to a car wash for the Tesla and a return to a park and ride. Photos of the car were sent to the owner who then locked the car wirelessly. It was a lot of fun to ride in the Tesla. I don’t plan on buying any more vehicles in my lifetime but, if I needed to, I would certainly consider an all electric car, even if it is not a Tesla. For those who are interested, Joel said that Tesla is coming out with an economy priced Model 3 soon. It will be priced about $35,000 for the basic version.

Joel took me back to SeaTac airport and I took the red eye flight through Detroit back to Stewart International. It was a wonderfully busy five days and Joel was the perfect host. Now I have to rest up before my trip to the Mohonk. Oh the life of retirement.

 

 

 

 

WOLF ROCKS SCRAMBLING, ENORMOUS SPIDER WEB AND GIGANTIC ADIRONDACK CHAIR

On Sunday, August 20, 2017 my Pennsylvania hiking partner Betsy and I completed the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail (AT) Section #1 by doing the 8.5 mile section from Wind Gap, Pa to Fox Gap, Pa. We had already done the northern 7.3 mile piece from Fox Gap to the Delaware Water Gap I-80 Bridge. The weather was mostly blue skies and the temps started out in the mid 60s. We parked my car at the Rt. 191, Fox Gap AT crossing and then rode in Betsy’s car to the Wind Gap parking area. The AT crossing is well marked with the sign below and we headed northbound around 7:30am.

As soon as you enter the woods you begin climbing about 500 feet up a series of stone steps on Blue Mountain which is part of the Kittatinny Mountain Range. After only a tenth of a mile we came upon this sign and we had to be quiet as there was a sleeping hiker in a tent just a short distance away.

We continued up until we reached the ridge line of the mountain and began walking for miles on thousands upon thousands of small pointy rocks. My health monitor on my I-phone said I took more than 25,000 steps in case you think I am exaggerating. Although I tried to find a flat area of dirt between the rocks for my size 12 hiking shoes, I was usually unsuccessful. My 238 pounds was supported by the one inch square of the top of a rock point. I would then transfer this piercing support to the bottom of my other foot with my next stride. Repeat as necessary til end of hike. Ouch. Here is what miles of the trail looked like in just this one photo.

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Betsy took photos of various shapes and colors of mushrooms and we saw many areas of the colorful coral fungi next to the trail.

I knew we were the first hikers on this section as my trekking pole was breaking up many cob webs. In less than a half hour I came upon the largest spider web I have ever seen on the AT. After photographing it, I tried as carefully as I could to just move the lowest anchor point for the web to just off the trail so we could pass. I figured I could save some of the rebuilding effort for the spider. This was one industrious arachnid.

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After crossing a private gravel road we noticed an AT sign on a stone at the base of a tree and we continued heading north.

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Twice during the next hour we noticed two of the round AT markers in the middle of the trail. What surprised me was that neither one had any unique numbering system to differentiate these markers from those placed elsewhere. I took their photos to research this further.

A little less than four hours into our hike I noticed this sign which faced the southbound hikers.

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We were heading northbound and did not see any warning sign but at least we made it unscathed past these wasps. Thanks to the unknown AT Ridgerunner for trying to keep hikers safe.

Occasionally, the path would change to more of a dirt composition which gave our feet a huge break but our hopes were usually buoyed for just a brief period of time. And the ever present root or other tripping hazard kept us honest and focused on placing our feet carefully each time.

After about 6.4 miles  we scrambled up some larger boulders to an area known as Wolf Rocks. My AT Conservancy Map notes that this area is the approximate southern limit of glaciation along the AT during the last ice age.  I can only imagine what force it took to move any of these rocks. Betsy took my photo as I sat on the first ledge overlooking a big drop off.

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The trail then involved larger boulder scrambling along the edge of this overlook. Although this scrambling used more leg muscles and sometimes both hands as well, our footfalls did not end upon pointy rocks. I knew we had only about one hour left in our hike. We started a small descent, had a 9/10ths of a mile walk along a gravelly fire break type path where we enjoyed the width and composition of the trail.

After a brief hike along a few more pointy rocks with some softer pine needle laden paths, we arrived at the kiosk for the trail head at the Route 191 AT crossing in Fox Gap.

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I drove Betsy back to her car in Wind Gap and I started the ride back to New York with one stop planned. Near the Rte. 191 AT crossing is a gigantic Adirondack Chair perched on top of an overlook. I was lucky a couple was taking photos so I used their camera to photograph them and they reciprocated for me. If you look closely to the bottom left photo you can see a person who is standing just to the left of the chair. The view to the valley below was beautiful. To give you some scale as to the size of the chair, I am 6′ 3 1/2″ tall. You literally had to climb up and into this chair.

Thank you Betsy for persevering through another rocky section of PA. I have now hiked a total of 180.1 miles on the AT [89.8 in NY(completed), 43.8 in CT, 30.7 in NJ and 15.8 in PA.

More hikes to plan, but first, some Vitamin I (ibuprophen that is).

 

COLORFUL MUSHROOMS, POINTY ROCKS AND FLOWERING LILY PADS GALORE

On Saturday 7/22/17 Bernadette’s friend since Explorer’s Scouts in Roslyn, PA, Betsy, and I hiked the 7.3 mile northern half of the Appalachian Trail (AT)-PA Section #1 from Fox Gap, PA to the Delaware Water Gap (western side of the I-80 Bridge over the Delaware River). We added the southern most one mile section of NJ Section #6 as well for a combined 8.3 mile hike. After leaving my car at the Kittatinny Visitor’s center parking lot, I rode with Betsy to the Fox Gap trail head parking area off Rt. 191. We headed across the road, over the guardrail and headed northbound at about 7:12am on a sunny day with expectations of 80s to 90s temperature before noon.

After only six tenths of a mile we came to the short uphill side trail for the Kirkridge Shelter. Although there were some belongings near the shelter, there were no hikers nearby.

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I wrote a short note in the trail register and christened Betsy with her trail name which is Lady Explorer. The Explorer Post that Betsy and Bernadette belonged to had done many different hiking and back-packing trips including some part of the AT. So Betsy and Bernadette have been AT hikers 45 years before me.

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I noticed that thru hiker “Screech” had written a poem like entry the day before which went as follows:

“If Pennsylvania sang opera, it would be monotone.

If Pennsylvania were hard candy, its flavor would be all purpose white flour.

If Pennsylvania were a childrens’ (sic) book, there would be no illustrations.

If Pennsylvania were perfume, it would be bear spray.

If Pennsylvania were your bed sheets, they’d be hot, wet and sticky latex.

If Pennsylvania had a saving grace, it’s the amazing trail magic!”

Another thru hiker, this one named EVAC, commented “Amen to that” with a directional arrow for clarity.

We retraced our path back down the blue blazed side trail and turned left to continue north on the trail. In a minute we passed another side trail junction, this being the northern junction of the loop that goes by the same shelter. We had arrived at the shelter via the southern junction.

Our journey along the ridge line involved walking on many pointy rocks which were sticking up into the soles of our feet and crossing right of ways for powerlines and later, for pipelines. Their clearings provided some wonderfully scenic views. We crossed Totts Gap between the powerline and pipeline access.

As we hiked we kept seeing different and sometimes colorful mushrooms or fungus (or fungi?) growing alongside the trail. Here are some of the photos Lady Explorer or I captured.

Lady Explorer’s sharp eyes caught sight of an orange spotted newt whose spots had not appeared as yet. This is the same type newt I have seen multiple times along other sections of the AT.

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A little over two hours into the hike, we noticed this bear print in a muddy area. I put my foot next to it for scale but somehow my foot did not appear in this photo.

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Ten minutes later we came to the old Tower Site on Mount Minsi which is about 1461′ above sea level.

We then began a fairly constant descent (1200 feet to the I-80 bridge) past Lookout Rock and Council Rock which provided views down to the Delaware Water Gap. We could see a sandy area along the Delaware River where kayaks were being launched. Along the way we rock hopped over Eureka Creek which did not have much of a flow of water on this day.

We stood off to the side of the trail for a while to permit a youth group of about fifty teenagers and their guides to pass as they hiked upward toward Mt. Minsi.

As we continued the last part of our descent, we came upon Lake Lenape which featured different birds, croaking frogs and the most flowering lily pads I have ever seen.

After a short visit at the lake, we made the brief hike into Delaware Water Gap and we turned left at the intersection with Main Street (Rt. 611) in order to stop in and visit at the Church of the Mountain Hostel which is located just one and a half blocks from the trail. This church sponsored hostel provides bunk beds, a common room, bathroom and shower for thru hikers who can make a small donation for their overnight stay. I took some photos of the inside rooms and of the outside door which is located more toward the rear of the church. I met Dave who identified himself as the caretaker for the hostel. He saw my Wilderness Medicine Institute patch on my hat and mentioned that he had been a NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) instructor at one time. Even though I was not staying overnight, I left a small donation to help with costs which support the thru hikers.

While there we had the good fortune to meet and chat briefly with “Screech” who was repairing his hiking shoes with shoe gloo and duct tape. I believe he was the author of the poem written into the Kirkridge Shelter register mentioned above. I guess he slept at the hostel last night. We also met Steely Dan who recently graduated from college and who wanted to thru hike the AT before starting in his career. I left my phone number with Steely in case he wanted some assistance in three or four days time with provisions, shower, laundry, etc when he got closer to Bear Mountain Bridge which is the lowest point of the AT at about 160′ above sea level. I offered to help as I would be back home after visiting with my relatives in the Philadelphia area.

Lady Explorer and I wished them well on their thru hike and after leaving the hostel, we walked the short way to the western end of the I-80 bridge and then the one mile walk across to the Kittatinny Visitor Center parking area. Along the way, with the assistance of other thru hikers, we took some photos of us and of the painted state line border sign which indicates that the AT southbound to Springer Mountain, GA is 1293.6 miles and the distance northbound to Mt. Katahdin, Maine is 895.6 miles.

We had a great hike and look forward to our next one in the rocky Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where a friend of Betsy is interested in joining, the more the merrier.

I have now hiked 171.6 miles of the AT [89.8 in NY(completed), 43.8 in CT, 30.7 in NJ and 7.3 in PA].

On Wednesday 7/26/17 I received a text from Steely and arranged to pick him up around 6pm along the blue bypass trail located just outside the Bear Mountain State Park Zoo. Bernadette and I enjoyed Steely’s company very much during an overnight visit at our house. After a big dinner, he washed his clothes, showered, drank a beer, watched TV and slept in air conditioning. The next day Steely resupplied his food provisions at Shop Rite Supermarket and I dropped him back off to continue his northbound thru hike. He had covered 1403 miles since starting out at Springer Mountain on May 14th after finishing his final exams. I know you will make it. Good luck Steely and call if you need anything else.

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GREAT FALLS, PROSPECT MOUNTAIN & BEAUTIFUL VIEWS

On Sunday 7/9/17 my son, Mike, and I went back to finish off Appalachian Trail(AT)-Connecticut Section #2- where we had left off during our Memorial Day weekend hike with my other son, Joel, in May. We ended up doing a small part of Section #1 as well which further reduced the amount of hiking miles needed to complete my second state of the AT. Weather was in low 60s and there was mostly blue sky with a few white, puffy clouds.

After parking Mike’s car at a nearby parking lot, we headed northbound from the Iron Bridge (called the Amesville Bridge according to “AWOL” Miller’s AT Guide) over the Housatonic River in Falls Village, CT. Wet shrubs, some with small thorns, encroached upon the width of the trail. My pants soaked up the moisture while my trekking pole helped clear a path. We could hear the loud rush of water to our right but due to the thick foliage we could not see the source of the noise. However, after only about thirteen minutes of walking, a small scenic overlook opened to permit hikers to climb onto the rocks which make up the Great Falls.

 

 

After leaving the Falls, two northbound thru hikers passed us as we began the nearly 1,000 foot ascent of Prospect Mountain, elevation 1475′ above sea level, which we reached just 2.3 miles into our hike. Along the way we saw a bunch of fallen trees and trail maintainers had cut this one to clear the trail. A little AT artistry was added instead of just cutting and rolling the cut section off the trail.

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We started to descend a short way from Prospect and saw to our left the sign for the Limestone Spring Shelter. It noted that the shelter was a half mile down the side trail. From prior research I found that the actual distance to the shelter was not that far but there was nothing unique about this shelter and I wanted to keep hiking to beat the summer heat as much as we could.

A little more than an hour and a half into the hike we came to Rand’s View which included this scenic view of lush fields of green grass with rolling hills in the background.

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After covering about 3.5 miles in two hours, which I figured would be the hardest part of this hike due to the elevation gain, we took a sit down break at a scenic overlook called Billy’s View, which according to the AT Conservancy guidebook for MA/CT, was named after a member of the family which use to own this property.

 

 

The trees blocked most of the view but I am sure in the late Fall or early Spring, the view of the nearby Salmon Kill Valley is wonderful.

Mike and I observed four or five different stacked stone walls in areas which had dubious usefulness. The rocks seemed to be stacked in areas of very limited access.

We began a fairly steep descent down switch-backed trails where some of the hiking involved careful foot placement to avoid any slip and fall. I photographed this log ladder with supportive hand rail which was installed along this stretch of the trail. This is what the ladder looked like after we had already climbed down it. It was very solidly assembled.

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While climbing down along Wetauwanchu Mountain, we started to hear the sounds of cars along CT Rt. 44. The trail parallels Rt. 44 in a flat, grassy field before emerging onto the road. Hikers cross the road, walk along the far side of Rt. 44 until the intersection with Cobble Road. This is the northern end of Section #2. As soon as we turned right onto Cobble Road, Mike saw this red colored flower and I took this photo.

 

 

Does anyone know what type of flower this is? Is it Monarda or Bee balm?

The AT continues along Cobble Road where we passed a sign for a fairly new looking Senior Residence development. Mike noted that it was located directly across the street from the St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery. Friends of any deceased residents would not have far to go for the graveside memorial service.

We continued northbound and noticed a well placed AT right turn sign which directed hikers to turn off Cobble Road into a field marked with wooden posts bearing white blazes. After crossing the field, we were back into the woods where the trail was shaded and cushioned with a layer of pine needles. We completed this short .4 mile stretch of Section #1 which got us back to the Undermountain Road (Rt. 41) hiker parking area. We got into my car, drove back to Mike’s car by the Iron Bridge and then plotted a course to the Oakhurst Diner in Millerton, NY which is located off Rt. 44 just across from the Connecticut/New York state line.

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I had a great tasting cheeseburger with mashed potatoes instead of fries and Mike had a chicken caesar salad. It was amazing the amount of people walking around at the different shops located in Millerton, NY which is a small place in the Town of Northeast in the upper corner of Dutchess County.

Thanks to Mike, who was his usual excellent hiking companion and shuttle driver, today’s hike finished the remaining 6.7 miles of Section #2 and .4 miles of Section #1 for a total of 7.1 miles in a little over three and a half hours. I have now hiked 163.3 miles of the AT [89.8 in New York(completed), 43.8 miles in Connecticut and 29.7 miles in New Jersey]. I am almost done hiking any parts of the AT within a one and a half hour drive of my house. I have a few more hikes to plan to complete both CT and NJ. Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, are on deck.

Rich Ballezza (aka Condor 3)

FOGGY MONUMENT BUT MONUMENTAL FATHER’S DAY HIKE

On Sunday, June 18, 2017 I was lucky to have my son Mike to accompany me on a Father’s Day Appalachian Trail (AT) hike. The plan was to do New Jersey Section #3 which is a 9.8 mile section between High Point State Park and the Rt. 284 road crossing. We left my car at the small parking area off Rt. 284 and then Mike gave me a ride to the designated AT parking area off Rt. 23 just prior to the High Point State Park visitors center. After parking Mike’s car we followed a blue blazed side trail which intersects with the New Jersey State’s red colored Iris Trail which then joins with the AT trail as hikers approach the Rt. 23 road crossing. A light rain was falling and there was a lot of fog which blocked our chance to enjoy the three state view (New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York) which is possible from this vantage point on clear weather days. High Point, at approximately 1700 feet above sea level, is the highest point in New Jersey.

As we crossed Rt. 23, we were guided by these signs on our northbound journey.

 

The first mile of this trail had a two hundred foot climb on very slick boulders and rocks which made our foot plants very deliberate so we did not turn an ankle so early in our journey. We were enshrouded in fog but eventually reached this wooden observation tower.

 

I walked up to see the view but it was mostly more fog. There was a tiny opening in the visibility which permitted a small view of Lake Marcia which is next to the paved auto road leading to the High Point Monument which is a 220 feet tall obelisk and is a replica of the Washington Monument. This war memorial was built in 1930. The fog was so thick we could not see even one foot of the monument.

For those readers who want to know what the monument looks like, here is a photo of it from the official High Point State Park brochure.

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Two tenths of a mile past the observation tower there is a side trail leading to the monument. We stayed to the right and kept heading on the AT. In a half a mile, we came to the side trail for the High Point Shelter. It had taken us one hour and thirteen minutes to travel the 1.7 miles to the shelter. Not exactly a blistering pace.

 

The shelter and area surrounding it were very neat. This shelter had a very long overhang past the edge of the sleeping platform which probably would keep sleeping hikers dry even during a rain storm. Mike noted the good masonry stone work done by the volunteers who constructed the shelter. I signed the register and cautioned any southbound hikers to watch out for the slick rocks.

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There was a notice advising hikers that per Jim Murray, the Murray Shelter aka The Secret Shelter would be closed on 6/1/17. I don’t know if the note meant that it would be closed only on that day or for good.

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As David “AWOL” Miller’s guide notes, this private cabin has been open for the use of long distance hikers for nearly 20 years. It is equipped with a tenting area, well water, shower and a privy. A little later, Mike and I noticed the entrance to this private site just a little west of the trail. I did not go investigate it but, in hindsight, I wish I had just to know if this was closed for good or not.

After a very short break at the shelter, we headed back to the trail. As we were turning right to continue north, we noticed a thru hiker who appeared to be packing up after sleeping the night in his tent. I called over to him to apologize if I had been talking too loudly but he said it was okay.

Three miles into our hike we came to our first road crossing, Greenville Road (Rt. 519). Mike noticed these little yellow colored markers stuck in the middle of the road.

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I had never seen these before. My only guess is that these right angled markers were placed to help guide the future line painting crews on this recently repaved road and to provide some safety for drivers to see the approximate middle of the road.

We continued a fairly steep descent and crossed a series of streams, some of which had very little water. Our feet were grateful for the break from sharp edged rocks as we crossed a stile and walked along edges of hay fields.

We reached the five mile mark in a little over two and a three quarter hours when we reached Ferguson Road. When I approached this stile I noticed that in addition to the right handed turn blaze pattern, someone had taken the time to affix a small white painted arrow as well to help guide the hikers. You can see another directional arrow across the street as well.

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We continued crossing more roads with some small little hills of about two hundred feet interspersed between the roads. We crossed a couple of footbridges similar to the one pictured below.

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After passing to the right of a small pond, we passed the gravel driveway leading to the Murray “Secret” Shelter. We continued our descent and on one switchback Mike found this leaf that was all rolled up. It was unusual. It looked like a bug or worm at first.

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We crossed Goldsmith Lane which was a gravel road and then Unionville Road before climbing a short two hundred foot hill. As soon as we hit the top of the hill we started the final descent toward Lott Road. As we were crossing Lott Road, we noticed the same northbound thru hiker we had seen near High Point Shelter. I forgot to say that he had passed us a while back. Anyway, he was sitting on a stone wall and taking a break. Since we only had a little over a mile left, and the stone wall was in a shaded spot, I wanted to chat with the hiker. His trail name is “Wave” and he intends to make it to Katahdin. He had begun hiking from Springer Mountain, Georgia in April.  It turns out that he is from Cary, North Carolina and I mentioned that I had relatives living there. I gave Wave my cell number in case he needed some help during the next part of his hike in NJ, NY or CT. He appeared to be hiking alone so this would give him a life line should he need help. I explained that I had already hiked the rest of NJ, all of NY and most of the CT sections he would be hiking soon so I was willing to help him should he need some assistance. I asked him to text me to let me know when he finishes at Katahdin. I gave him a Cliff Bar-White Macadamia Nut- before Mike and I headed north to complete our day’s section hike. The last mile was uneventful as we descended a little further to the Rt. 284 road crossing. Mike took my picture under a nearby sign. I somehow got a blood stain on the front of my shirt. I surmise a branch scratched me through my shirt.

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I have now hiked 156.2 miles of the AT [89.8 in New York (completed), 36.7 in Connecticut and 29.7 in New Jersey]. More section hikes to plan!